A week ago the story broke that researchers at the University of Toronto were working on technology that would allow internet users in China to access anything they wanted, anywhere on the web, without being traced.
The beauty of their technology is that it uses the same networking port that all ecommerce runs on … so authorities won’t be able to shut it down without lobotomizing their internet traffic. This is exactly what a company like Google should have invented. (Or Yahoo!, or Microsoft for that matter).
Why should Google have done this? Their mission, so they say, is to make all the world’s information accessible. That, in itself, is reason number one.
Plus, their motto is “do not evil.” It’s been sneered at often, and with good cause. It is sophomoric and silly. Not for the usual reasons – that they’re a company, after all, or that corporations have no business inserting themselves in moral conversations.
Rather, it’s sophomoric and silly because simply refraining from doing evil is not nearly enough. To be good, you must do good … not simply withhold from doing evil. As Edmund Burke said, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” However, silly as it is, it’s reason number two.
It’s great that the University of Toronto researchers are coming out with a tool that can help ordinary Chinese access any information they want on the web, without government censorship.
But Google should have come out with that tool. Why? Google could bring instant scale to a tool like that. Google’s adoption of anything puts it in the spotlight. Who knows whether the U of T’s tool will become well-known or popular in China? If Google did this, China’s censors would have been swamped. China’s people would be given much more free access to information, and that would have enormous consequences, over time, on China’s political situation.
Sure, China would have countered, somehow. But Google is the smartest company in the world, supposedly. They could have stayed one step ahead. Probably more steps ahead than some post-doc researchers at the U of T.
China would have had two choices: cut the physical pipes, or accept continual, high-level leakage. Cutting the pipes would have been economic suicide: China’s lifeline is commerce and commerce does not exist without network connectivity.
So when, finally, China’s government would have thrown in the censorship towel, Google would have owned the Chinese market. They would be the very company whose technology had forced the Chinese government to accede to their own people’s desire for information. Information from Google, and other providers. And that’s the very prize that Google is now selling its soul to win.
Which is the third reason why Google should have created the tool that infiltrated the Great Firewall of China: they could have won without doing evil.
They could have won by doing smart good.